An Open Letter to Evangelical Republicans

I have been contemplating writing an “open letter” detailing my feelings of dismay at the embrace given to Trump by the evangelical right. I’ve prayed about it and mulled it over at length, but the opportunity to write my thoughts down just hasn’t materialized. And then, I saw this post written by another blogger that perfectly expresses everything I was planning on writing. I share this man’s heart. I, too, feel compelled by the Christ I know and love to reject practically every single aspect of Trump, and I, too, am deeply disappointed in all who claim Christ as Lord but yet embrace a man so at odds with every single thing Christ modeled and calls us to be. Please read this letter and listen with your heart. My thanks to the author.

pontifications. and stuff.

I want to preface this letter with two caveats. The first is that I hope I’m wrong about what I see coming down the pike. The second is that if I’m right, I pray I will have the courage to live the convictions that I write, because God knows I am a person full of fear.

Dear Evangelical Republicans,

I grew up one of you. I was raised to think conservatively–to support the troops, to protest gay marriage, to fight against the great injustice of higher taxes for the wealthy. But as I’ve pursued a theological education over the last seven years, we’ve grown apart. Much that I once held as self-evident truth from the very hand of God, I now disagree with–and the convictions that do we still share, I hold from a much more nuanced perspective. I’ve learned to live with the disconnect from my youth, and I…

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Grandad’s “Dirty” Joke

My Grandad Reagan Otts was one of the most gentle, kind, laid back, wonderful human beings God ever created. Rarely did I ever witness him lose his temper and even more rarely did I ever hear him curse. (The only time I ever did was during a harrowing encounter with a particularly rude motorist while driving in Dallas traffic.) But rarest of all was even the hint of an off color joke coming from him.

While on a recent trip to Colorado with some family members, I was reminded of the closest thing to a dirty joke that Grandad ever told. Upon hearing it retold by my brother, I laughed anew as I realized how truly clever a man he was. And so, without further adieu, allow me to share with you my Grandad’s “dirty” joke.


A newcomer to Alaska decided to capture a polar bear. He devised a plan to build a trap, hired a guide to take him to an ice sheet frequented by trophy sized bears, and then sent him away with instructions to return in one week.

When the guide returned, he was dismayed to see that his client had somehow excavated a deep pit in the ice over which he had assembled a tripod of long poles that held suspended directly over the center of the pit a large chunk of fresh meat. Surrounding the pit, set back about 10 feet from the edge was what looked like a low, circular igloo with multiple doors facing inward toward the pit. He had never seen anything like it and asked his client, “How in the world do you plan on trapping a polar bear with that?”

The client replied, “Easy. Ya see this little igloo I built around the pit?”

The guide nodded.

The client continued, “Well, I’m going to hide in that igloo until a polar bear comes along to try to get that meat over the pit, and while the bear is focused on reaching that meat, I’m going to circle around behind, pop out the nearest door, and kick him right in the ice hole.”


I know it’s about as corny as corny can be, but it made me laugh just because of who it was that told it. As an added bonus, it provided my brother and I with an inside joke: “Don’t be an ice hole.”

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Belle of the Ball

I graduated from Texas A&M University. Yes, I’m an Aggie. But not just any Aggie. I grew up in College Station as the son of a Junction Boy. I used to play with the son of Earl Rudder, the college president and a legend in Aggieland. You can’t get much more Aggie than that. As such, I am well steeped in Aggie lore. One such example has to do with a tradition that, as rare as such a thing is, died out: coeds being bussed in from TWU to attend grand balls thrown in their honor.

I ran across an article about this the other day and it reminded me of a funny story my mother used to tell. The story occurred in the mid-80s while she was working for the university. Allow me to share it here to the best of my recall.

While on her way to lunch atop Rudder Tower, she found herself awaiting the elevator with an elderly woman accompanied by a middle aged lady. From the conversation my mother overheard while they were waiting, it became apparent that they were the mother and grandmother of a coed visiting from out of town and that both of them were married to Aggies themselves.

Before the elevator arrived, the three of them were joined by a very large, black cadet. The elderly woman appeared to take great interest in the new arrival, looking him over from head to toe.

After noticing his senior boots, she turned to him and said, “Oh… You must be a senior in the corp, young man.”

“Yes, maam.”, he replied politely.

After a brief, somewhat awkward pause, she spoke again. “My husband was in the corp back in the 30’s.”

The cadet smiled and said, “Is that so?”

“Yes,” she continued. “But there weren’t any blacks on campus back then.”

The cadet looked a bit shocked and uncomfortable as the daughter turned to her mother with a look of complete mortification and ground out “Mother!” from between clenched teeth. She turned to the cadet in full blush and said, “I am SO sorry.”

In true gallant fashion, the cadet recovered his composure and said, “It’s quite alright ma’am. Your mother is right. There probably weren’t any blacks on campus back then.”

The awkward silence that followed was mercifully ended by the arrival of the elevator. Conversation ceased while the party boarded. The only floor selected was the top floor, the site of the restaurant. Just as the doors were closing, the elderly woman, whom had obviously been lost in thought reminiscing about the Aggieland of her youth, spoke up again, turning to the cadet, perhaps hoping to show she had meant no harm in her previous statement.

“I hardly recognize the campus nowadays. I met my husband while he was a student here. They would bus us in from TWU, where I was a student. Oh, I used to love to visit. All those handsome young cadets.”

She paused while the cadet nodded and smiled. All would have been well had she simply stopped there. But, unfortunately for her horrified daughter, she asked, in a voice aquiver with the excitement of her past fond memories, “Tell me, do you boys still have big balls here like they used to?”

The only saving grace was that the elevator had arrived and the doors opened right as this question was posed. Without hesitation, the daughter grabbed her mother by the arm and broke for the door, only uttering a hasty “Oh my god. I am so, SO sorry.”

My mother knew the real meaning of the question, but we will never know what that poor cadet was thinking.

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Who Do You Love?

Copyright 2015 by Joel R. Hall – All rights reserved.

The most important question in all of creation is, “Who do you love?”

Yeshua made it abundantly clear: “God is Love”, “Love each other”, “Love your enemies”. He meant it. He really meant it. So much so, that he made it a command: “This is my command: Love each other.” So much so, that he made it the watermark of following him: “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love…” So much so, that, when asked which command was the greatest, he said something that, to the ears of his contemporaries, sounded outrageous:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

And he didn’t leave any room for interpretation about who his followers were to love: EVERYONE. Not just your family. Not just your friends. Not just your countrymen. Not just your race. Not just your religion. EVERYONE. Even, and perhaps especially, your enemies.

So here is the question above all questions. Who do you love?

If you say you love the Eternal, but do not love his children, then you not only do not love the Eternal, but truly do not even know him. He IS love. As such, He loves everyone. He loves all his children. He loves Mother Teresa… and he also loves Adolf Hitler. He loves George Washington… and he also loves Josef Stalin. He loves Moishe… and he also loves Osama bin Laden. He even loves George W. Bush and Barrack Obama. Heck, he even loves Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump.

Do you love illegal immigrants? Do you love Muslims? Jews? Blacks? Hippies? Red necks? Rich? Poor? Queen Elizabeth? Welfare queens? Communists? Kim Jong-un? Charles Manson? Little Honey Boo-boo? Josh Dugger? Bill Cosby? Caitlyn Jenner? Gays? Drug dealers? Rapists? Human traffickers? Slave owners? Thieves? Murderers? Polygamists? The homeless? Members of ISIS? Pedophiles? Prostitutes? Conservatives? Liberals?

WHO do you LOVE?

It is the only question that matters. When I was stripped of my physical self and stood naked within the ocean of light that is our lord, that was the only thing that mattered. And in that state of absolute nakedness – spiritual nakedness – it was impossible to lie. My life was the answer; the answer was my true name, and that name was laid bare before all.

In that place, where communication is pure and absolute, where there is not even the possibility of ambiguity, where your name, your true name, the very essence of your being, is open for all to see, hear, smell, taste, touch… experience… in that place, who you love is who you are. That identity is the identity you forge every moment of your physical life. You quite literally write your own essential, eternal name by who, during this life, you choose to love… and who you choose to judge.

Judge? Shouldn’t that read “hate” or “choose not to love”? No, judge is correct. True love, agape love, can only come from the Eternal as a result of loving him. The very act of opening ourselves completely to him in love is the very thing that enables his love to flow through us. But, in order to love him, I must know and trust him as sovereign, as the Creator, and as the only one able to justly judge. For me to choose to believe that I have the right to judge, I have to think myself equal with God, but, the moment I make that choice, I terminate my love for him. If I love the Eternal, I can only ever love his children without judgement. To presume, even for an instant, to judge is to forget who is God and who is not. (Hint: it’s not me.)

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that in order to love others I have to agree with their choices. Not at all. I simply have to choose to love them in spite of their choices, trusting the Eternal to deal with them justly just as he deals with me justly; just as he loves me in spite of my choices. Neither is it true that loving others without judgement requires accepting their actions without opposition. In many cases, loving requires opposition. A loving response to Hitler was to prevent him from killing the innocent.

Love is not simple, but it is worthwhile. It is the most worthwhile thing there is. It defines you. It refines you. It determines your name.

And so, I ask you again, hoping and praying with all my soul that you think long and hard about the answer: who do you love?

Copyright 2015 by Joel R. Hall – All rights reserved.

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A Dog Just Peed in my Beer

Copyright 2014 by Joel R. Hall – All rights reserved.

This song is dedicated to the young lady that inspired it. Thanks Melissa. Here is my acapella  recording so you can get some idea of the country tune that goes with the lyrics. Enjoy!

Well, I run off the road and got stuck in the ditch
When I almost hit a deer.
So I grabbed my last three Lone Stars
And I sat in the shade on my rear
I drank the first two and then opened the last,
But when I sat it down to wipe a tear,
An old cur dog that was nosin’ around,
Hiked his leg and just peed in my beer!

— Chorus —
A dog just peed in my beer!
That’s right, you heard it here!
Just a-sittin’ by a tree,
Gettin’ drunk as could be
When a dog come and peed in my beer!

You see today’s the anniversary,
I mark it ever’ year,
It’s the day she ripped my heart to shreds
And left me cryin’ here.
So I was headin’ to the store in my pickup truck
To pick up a case of cheer.
But instead I’m stuck on the side of the road and
A dog just peed in my beer!


Now I’ve lived through many hard times
And by now the truth seems clear
When the going gets rough and I aughta get tough
And put it in another gear,
Instead of risin’ to the challenge
I run away in fear.
And now to top the whole thing off,
A dog just peed in my beer!


Now I’m facing a dilemma,
And my mind ain’t clear, you see.
What with grievin’ that witch and gettin’ stuck in the ditch
I’m as desperate as can be.
So now I’m starin’ at my last Lone Star,
And a-puzzlin’ mightily,
Do I pour it out or just guzzle it quick
And hope I can’t taste that pee!?!

A dog just peed in my beer!
That’s right, you heard it here!
Just a-sittin’ by an oak,
Hopin’ I don’t croak,
As I guzzle that dog pee beer!

Just a-sittin’ by an oak,
Hopin’ I don’t croak,
As I guzzle that dog pee beer!

Whooooo doggy!

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The Evidence of Things Unseen

Those of you that have been following this blog for any length of time are probably aware of the two concurrent and interrelated themes of my near death experience and my God dreams. I cannot separate the one from the other because the things revealed to me while out of my body were reinforced by the first of my God dreams, which occurred immediately upon my return to my body, and further clarified by subsequent dreams, the most important of which concerned the resolution of a deep wound from my childhood.

Over the past 36 years, the Creator has taken me on a journey I never could have predicted and a great deal of the flow of that journey has been accomplished through the interplay between my NDE and the ongoing occurrence of these special dreams. The frustration for me, however, is that, while I have profited greatly from these experiences and feel humbled and blessed to have had them, I find that there is no way to share them with others in a way that rises above, at best, the level of odd, perhaps interesting, rantings of a man that believes he has experienced things which cannot be shared in a way to which anyone else can readily relate. It’s maddening. Sometimes it makes me want to scream.

But I have come to accept that it is only reasonable for others to be skeptical. After all, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. This has led me to constantly seek out the stories of others that claim to have also experienced an NDE, with the result being that I find myself more and more encountering depictions of heavenly visits that resonate with me in ways too harmonic to be explained away as mere chance. This is especially true when I read the accounts of those children, like Colton Burpo in “Heaven is for Real“, who were too young when they visited heaven for the descriptions of their experience to be reasonably explained as “hallucinatory fulfillment of religiously fueled  expectations” since such expectations would only reasonably exist in persons old enough to have developed a personal belief system rich enough to fuel such a possible explanation.

Some of the details that struck me most vividly in Colton’s descriptions of his experience in heaven are the vivid colors of the rainbow, the intense (like REALLY intense) love of Yeshua for His children, the awareness of events in “the real world” that he could not possibly have known while unconscious, and the knowledge of things, past, present, and future, that have no reasonable “natural” explanation. These things make my heart resonate like a bell.

While our individual experiences of heaven were not identical (as no two appear to be), there are certain themes and details that recur over and over again. For instance, Akiane Kramarik, who claims to have started visiting heaven in her dreams at the tender age of 4, describes the “hundreds of millions of more colors we don’t know yet” which is identical to my own experience. Akiane was raised by atheists and had NO religious background from which to draw any expectation of God or heaven. Her experience falls more under the God dream category than the NDE, but the thematic resonance is unmistakable.

I know there are many that simply cannot accept as evidence the anecdotal stories of those that claim to have visited heaven (or hell) as anything other than hearsay, fanciful wish fulfillment, or fabrications, but if you look at the facts of each case and start examining the circumstantial evidence, the case for a spiritual realm or dimension grows stronger and stronger. Granted, it cannot ever be proven to the standard required by scientific inquiry, but that does not mean it can be readily dismissed either. And for those of us that have experienced these things first hand, I can assure you that it would require a great effort to ever cease to believe in the reality behind the experience. I could just as easily dismiss as real the entire experience of the reality we all seem to share. I guess seeing really is believing.

Shalom, my friends. Try not to be too enamored of your own assumptions.

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What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Us

The most accurate description of the state of the religion called Christianity, which spans a great range of sects, is that the modern institutions, or at least most of them, that identify themselves as Christian could more accurately be referred to as Constantinians, since it was Constantine that presided over the formation of the institution known as the Roman Catholic Church.

During the canonization process of the books of the Catholic Bible, many texts viewed as sacred by a large portion of the early Christian Church were rejected and criminalized. The official creed was formulated to define the “accepted doctrine” of the official Church and allow enforcement by means of Roman soldiers, enlisted to confiscate and burn any writing deemed heretical. Heretics were persecute, imprisoned, and killed in an effort to establish a single religion and bring peace to the empire.

All of this occurred under the direction of Constantine, who at the time, was the high priest of the temple of Apollo. He himself refused to be baptized until he lay on his deathbed. The point is, the modern institution is not a pure descendant of the movement known as “The Way” that existed in the first couple of centuries following the ministry of Yeshua. I’m not saying Christians should abandon their belief in Christ – after all, I am a believer – but I am saying that we should be very careful about assuming that all that glitters in the institutional church is gold.

As many of you know, I had a near death experience when I was 18 that involved a direct encounter with Him. While my belief preexisted this encounter, the results of this experience erased any doubts in my heart of His existence, and firmly established the authenticity of His nature as a loving Creator. He is all of that and more.

But the biggest take away from that experience was the overwhelming impression that we are all loved with a love so deep, so profound, that it is practically indescribable using human language. I came back realizing that our very existence is a manifestation of that love, and that we, as humans, have way overcomplicated the whole sin thing. I firmly believe that God’s definition of sin is very different from the common human understanding of that word. (See The Robot Parable for my best shot at elucidating my understanding of the concept I encountered in His being.)

One of my friends recently posted a meme that derided as illogical belief in a God that would create humans with sin, blame them for His act, come to Earth to die to atone for that sin, and then cast in eternal punishment those that reject Him. In this view, God is viewed as an egotist that craves validation from his creation and cruelly punishes those that don’t comply. Indeed, much of the dogma of both the Jewish and Christian (and Muslim) religions support this view. But that is certainly not the nature of the Creator I encountered. I am convinced our understanding of Him is very skewed, which makes perfect sense. We are finite (very finite) creations that struggle to even understand the created universe in which we live. The concept of infinity is only loosely understood by us in the most abstract sense. We simply cannot fully comprehend something so far outside our limited experience.

That is why everything ever written, spoken, or thought by living humans concerning the nature and will of the Creator is, at best, speculation. Even in encountering Him directly, while free of the constraints of my finite, physical body, I could not comprehend Him in anything even approaching totality. To do so would require that I be Him, for He is the only one that can. So our religion suffers from the innate limits of Human frailty. So why allow sin? Did God create us simply so He could bully us? Is He cruel? What gives?

In the Christian Bible, Yeshua is quoted as saying “God is Love”, and that, to me is the essence of the Truth. He is no egotist. He doesn’t need our worship. He loves us and desires the best for us. But He wants a relationship with beings given free will which, unfortunately, means that He must allow us to choose not to seek a relationship. That choosing is, in my best understanding (which is limited, I admit), the key to understanding sin.

The Creator did not create us with cruel intent, but rather with the intent of empowering us to choose, free of obvious, verifiable, provable consequence. If you want an intelligent being to reveal its own true nature, you have to allow it to believe that the only consequence for any and all actions is the result within the immediate context. Good behavior under the threat of punishment reveals nothing about the nature of the acting entity. John Wooden is quoted as saying, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” I truly believe that this sentiment strikes to the heart of the sin question. I firmly believe the Creator wants to know us as we really are and part of that knowledge must encompass what we are capable of doing in the deepest, darkest recesses of our hearts. He is not interested in us putting on a show. He wants to find out how fluently each of us learns to speak the language of love.

That is why He created a universe where chaos is balanced with beauty. Where life and death, joy and suffering are possible. Only in that setting can we show ourselves for what we are. Each individual must choose, in every moment of life, to either be an agent of love, joy, peace, truth, understanding and grace (all of the things demonstrated and embodied in the life of Yeshua) or to walk a darker path of fear, anger, hatred, apathy, greed, and turmoil. We can seek to serve others in love, crush others in a bid to control and exploit, ignore others in a pursuit of selfish indulgence, or justify ourselves by acting out a mime of “righteousness” by following rules and laws.

Those that choose to walk in search of Love (which is God), become more and more in tune with His being. Those that choose other paths move ever farther from Him.

But wait, some will object, that’s not fair. If we are to be judged, shouldn’t it be made incontrovertibly clear what the standard is? Isn’t it cruel to punish poor, frail humans without making the stakes clear? Why doesn’t the Creator, if He exists, simply reveal Himself? Why not step onto the stage of our world and solve all our ills? Isn’t that cruel?

To be honest, none of us can answer that question from where we stand in this universe. When I passed out of this universe into His presence, I realized that many of the answers cannot and will not be revealed until we have moved on, but in His presence, I was overwhelmed with the sense that anything and everything about His nature is founded in Love, Grace, and innate Justice. I came back understanding that there is, deep within us all, an instinct, the still small voice, that, if we choose to seek it out, will give us all the evidence we need.

Yeshua said, “Seek and you will find. Knock and it will be opened to you.” He wasn’t kidding. We have to make a choice to seek. We have to be willing to embrace Love even when it means foregoing opportunities for self indulgence or enrichment. Even when it means fogiving those that hate, who act cruelly, who seem unlovable. We have to come to a place where we see every human as His child – precious, unique, loved, valued – and seek to love even in spite of the inevitable flaws. In fact, we have to choose to love without judgement. The very definition of heaven requires beings that behave in this fashion. The essence of Hell (if it is a place at all) is typified by those that choose judgement, manipulation, anger, addiction, fear, lies, etc. You can’t mix the two things and have paradise.

But does that imply that there really will be a heaven and hell in the end? Some think so. Some do not. Rob Bell, in his book, “Love Wins” argues that God seeks to gather all his creation to Himself (heaven) and will find the means to do so. With eternity to work with, this is always a possibility. I personally do not know the answer… yet. We all will eventually. What I do know is that seeking to embrace love and acceptance is never a wrong thing.

Even if I turn out to be totally full of bologna and am self deceived; even if my whole NDE was simply an epic hallucination brought on by hypoxia; even if in the final analysis there is no God; I can still confidently state that choosing to live as if there is and choosing to embrace Him as the very essence of Love and seek to conform myself to that essence, I will have won a great victory in this life. Because the bottom line is that the path of Love, joy, truth, and grace is a path that generates peace and well being without fail. We are wired to desire these things. Even scientific analysis concurs in this. So, while I firmly believe He exists, I even more firmly believe that seeking Him is the greatest endeavor a human being can undertake.

Shalom to you all.

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